By Vincenzo Iuppa, MNEA Associate General Counsel
Something Better magazine, summer 2022
It is natural for education employees to believe that their district is responsible for maintaining all the important documents that are created as part of their employment. From evaluations and observations to your teaching certificate, memos, or improvement plans, the “personnel file” is believed to be a complete record of an employee’s career in a district. However, due to changes in storage methods, differing administrations, the impact of hackers or ransomware, and just general losses from time, it is unlikely that your district has all the files that you believe they do. These issues often aren’t discovered until an individual wants or needs a file, only to find that there doesn’t appear to be any record of it at all. To provide the best protection for your career, you should create a personal personnel file.
Creating the file
The first step in creating your personal personnel file is to establish what information is currently in your district’s file. Start by contacting someone in your human resources office or superintendent’s office to make an appointment to review your file. If you are unfamiliar with the process or need assistance, your local association president or UniServ director can assist you in setting up this appointment. Once you access your district’s file, make personal copies for your own records. If your district does not allow you to run copies, you can also use your personal cell phone to take pictures or make scans of all the documents. Furthermore, you should make a list of all items in the file, date the list, and, if allowed by your district’s policy or collective bargaining agreement, ask to have the list included in your district file. This creates a record of everything in your personnel file on that date.
If your district maintains your personnel file electronically, you should save copies of all of the contents of your file on private technology. Download the files to a personal hard drive or thumb drive that you then take home with you, or create copies that are stored on a personal web service or online document storage solution. Bear in mind that if you leave anything in your room or office, or on any software controlled by the district, you can very easily lose access if an incident occurs.
Documenting verbal conversations
You can also use your personal personnel file to maintain documentation of verbal conversations with supervisors. If you ever need to discuss a difficult or complex situation with a supervisor or need to ask for guidance or permission, you should be sure to document the conversation in writing. Administrators transfer or retire, and they deal with many students and employees every day, so it’s very easy for guidance over specific circumstances to be lost or forgotten.
An easy way to document verbal communications is by using your district email. After having the conversation with your supervisor, you can send an email to verify the communication. You should then forward a copy of that email, and any response that you receive, to a personal email account. This account should be just for you, not one shared with other friends or family members.
Realize that maintaining good documentation is not a replacement for using the advocacy services that are available to you as a member of MNEA. If at any point you are concerned with the actions of a supervisor or disagree with a document or evaluation you receive, contact your UniServ director immediately for assistance.
Adding to the file
After you have created your basic personal personnel file, you can then continue to add to it so that you have a record of all important documents.
- Keep notes about visits or meetings with your supervisor, including notations of any witnesses and the date and time of the interaction.
- If you are being evaluated, keep a copy of anything that you provide to your evaluator as well as any documents they provide to you.
- If you receive a document that you are asked to sign, make sure you ask for sufficient time to review the document and be sure to provide responses or statements as you believe appropriate. Keep copies of all documentation.
- Keep notes of parent-teacher meetings, including both formal conferences and informal interactions, and save them in your personal personnel file.
- Ask for copies of documentation of any parent or student concerns you encounter, and place a copy in your file.
- Contact your building administrators to ask for any documentation they are maintaining in a building or administrator file.